Pumas looking to end year of long hauls with a win over Ireland

Argentina have played more games than almost every other international team this year

Argentina’s fullback Joaquin Tuculet scores a try during their Test match win over Italy at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence. Photo: Andreas Solaro/Getty Images

Argentina’s fullback Joaquin Tuculet scores a try during their Test match win over Italy at the Artemio Franchi stadium in Florence. Photo: Andreas Solaro/Getty Images

 

All but one of Argentina’s 23-man match-day squads for their recent games against England and Italy were drawn from the Jaguares, and at the end of a long arduous year competing in Super Rugby, the Rugby Championship and now this November tour, the flight which took them from Florence to Dublin on Sunday was close to their 50th of 2017.

You wouldn’t envy them all those air miles, check-ins and check-outs, but they arrived here buoyed by ending a seven-match losing sequence against Italy and knowing this is their final game of the calendar year.

“It’s a learning curve for us,” said their forwards coach Pablo Bouza from their latest hotel abroad yesterday. “This is our second year competing in the Championship and Super Rugby, and I think we are in better shape, compared to playing England this time last season (when they lost 27-14). It’s different for our team, we’re the only team in the world that play about 30 matches together since January.”

Their lock, Guido Petti Pagadizaval, was only 20 when he started Argentina’s 43-20 World Cup quarter-final win over Ireland in 2015, but has had to endure some tougher times since then. Argentina played some typically adventurous rugby in the Rugby Championship, but in scoring 10 tries and averaging 18 points per game, they conceded 31 tries and an average of 39 points per game. Five yellow cards and one red card also hit them hard. 

Discipline

“I think discipline in all the years was one of our worst things. We have had a lot of yellow cards, I don’t think too much red cards. So 10 minutes with a player is impossible at this level be it European or Super Rugby or Rugby Championship, you cannot play with 14 players, less with a red. Yeah, yeah of course it is something we are focussing on a lot. I think the players think the loss is too much so we need to improve in that way.”

Bouza is a former backrow-cum-lock who won 37 caps for his country and played in the 2003 World Cup but didn’t feature against Ireland in their pool meeting in Adelaide. He admits it has been a disappointing year for the Pumas, not only in the Rugby Championship but also losing both home Tests against an under-strength England.

“In the Championship, we played well for 60 minutes against each team, but then for the last 20 minutes we can’t win one match. Twice against Australia, once against South Africa and once against New Zealand we won the first half, and then we couldn’t keep playing to the same level for the full 80 minutes.

“It’s not fitness. I think when you miss a couple of chances to score, and then after that the other team score, I think it’s mentally, learning about decision making, and we’re working on that.

That said, they come here with a win, and Bouza said: “It was a positive to beat Italy, because any team that wins is happy. I don’t know any team that has lost a game and been happy. It was important, because last week in Italy we were a bit nervous. We made some unforced errors but then we won the last 15 minutes.”

Knee injury

The Pumas will not know whether the brilliant Juan Martín Hernández – now 35 years of age – will have recovered from his knee injury to make what would surely be his final appearance in this country.

The Pumas outflanked the Irish defence in that quarter-final in Cardiff, but Bouza countered: “It was a different team and a different moment and Ireland had so many injuries the week before. Very important players. Argentina was in good shape for the World Cup. It is different moment and different teams now. We cannot look back to that match.”

Indeed, taking note of Ireland’s 38-3 win over South Africa, Bouza was quick to identify the aspect of that performance which most impressed him. “Defence. And how clinical they were in attack. They have to score. Their defence was excellent. At the end of the day South Africa cannot score. So it is obviously a good team. They didn’t score a try. Ireland made it very difficult.”

They know Ireland will defend with more aggressive line speed this time around. “Yes, we know. The coach was the same with England (Andy Farrell). He is one of the best defence coaches and it is very hard to attack them but we are working on how we can do that.”

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